With the split between Saratoga County and the Saratoga Economic Development Corp. still fresh, a national economic development consultant on Wednesday said successful economic development requires teamwork.
“Every place that is successful, no matter the size, is a public-private partnership,” said J. Mac Holladay, founder and CEO of Market Street Services of Atlanta. “There is no other way. It is a team sport.”
Holladay spoke on planning for the future at a luncheon SEDC sponsored at the Saratoga Springs City Center — an event SEDC officials said was set up before the recent split between SEDC and the county became public — as they look for ways to build on past successes, including the attraction of high-tech industries.
“What we did is get an expert to come in and talk to us about the next piece in the puzzle,” said SEDC President Dennis Brobston.
About 160 business leaders and elected officials attended.
County officials, who have used the private nonprofit SEDC for marketing to prospective businesses since 1978, announced a month ago that they would terminate the relationship at the end of the year.
County Economic Development Committee Chairman John E. Lawler, R-Waterford, said SEDC hasn’t been sufficiently accountable for the $1.7 million in county funding it has received over the past five years.
“We talked to SEDC about greater transparency,” he said Tuesday. “It was about accountability to the taxpayers and elected officials of the county.”
This week, the county hired a consultant to help it start work toward writing a strategic economic development plan, with the goal of establishing a new county economic development organization separate from SEDC.
“The Board of Supervisors is moving forward with a new economic development program that is worthy of the unique opportunities and advantages we have at our fingertips in Saratoga County,” Lawler said.
Brobston said SEDC wants to work with the county but won’t budge on the county request to put a supervisor on its board. Current bylaws prohibit elected officials on the SEDC board.
The county’s proposal to put a county supervisor on the board of directors could have strengthened an argument that SEDC — which says it needs to maintain confidentiality with businesses it is trying to attract — should be subject to open government laws.
SEDC over the past 35 years has played a central role in efforts that have brought companies like GlobalFoundries, a Target warehouse and the Quad/Graphics printing plant to the county. Brobston said companies aided by SEDC have created 17,500 jobs in the county over the past 35 years.
Because of the break, SEDC will receive no further funding from the county after this year. It is receiving $200,000 in 2013 — about a quarter of its annual budget — but had been receiving $330,000 as recently as 2011.
Brobston said the organization will go on, though two people — a comptroller and office manager — were laid off in January, as SEDC leaders foresaw the county’s action. He said SEDC will continue to work on putting together incentive packages for businesses looking to relocate or expand.
After his presentation, Holladay — who has worked on economic development plans for communities like Austin, Texas, Des Moines, Iowa, and Richmond, Va. — said it would make more sense for the county and SEDC to work together.
“There are no success stories of people operating independently,” he said. “They do need a clear strategy. We need to move forward. We need to have a conversation about what makes sense.”
Pete Bardunias, president of the Chamber of Southern Saratoga County, said his organization needs to continue working with both the county and SEDC.
“We have partnered with SEDC for many years, and we will continue to work with them. We have partnered with the county for many years and will continue to work with the county,” he said.
Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson, who attended the luncheon, said the break between the county and SEDC is bad for business.
“It sends the wrong message out to the community, which we don’t need,” he said.
In his presentation, Holladay noted that Saratoga County has high college-education levels and low child poverty levels compared with most surrounding counties and generally fits the category of a “wealthy burb” compared with surrounding counties.
He urged the community to embrace diversity and change as part of the struggle to create post-recession jobs.
Economic development “is hard work, and it has to challenge the status quo every day,” he said. “But think about it: If things don’t change, how are they going to get better?”